Dáil Éireann - Volume 632 - 01 March, 2007

Priority Questions. - Anti-Poverty Strategy.

Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will make a statement on the findings relating to Irish child poverty in the UNICEF report Report Card 7, Child Poverty in Perspective, An Overview of Child Well-being in Rich Countries. [8106/07]

  Mr. Brennan: In 2005, the rate of consistent poverty in Ireland was 7% of the population, of whom 12.2% were children. This proportion is still too high, but it must be judged in the context of what has been achieved over the past decade. Some 250,000 people, including children, have been lifted from poverty in Ireland based on the consistent poverty measure. The Government is determined to continue to work to achieve and, as resources permit, exceed this rate of progress in reducing child poverty in the years ahead. Budget 2007, in which I announced a range of measures costing over €240 million to benefit children and families, provides clear evidence in this regard.

These measures include combining these rates of child dependant allowance payments in a new single high rate qualified child allowance of €22 per week that will benefit over 340,000 children [1570] of families on welfare, increasing the rate of child benefit by €10 per week, which benefits over 560,000 families in respect of approximately 1,134,000 children, increasing the back to school clothing and footwear allowance by €60 and €95 and providing additional funding of €3 million in 2007 to extend the school meals programme.

Other budgetary measures, such as the €20 per week increase in the lowest social welfare rate to €185.80 and increases in the earnings thresholds for the one parent family payment and family income supplement, will also indirectly benefit children living in poorer households. For the longer term, the Government recently published the national action plan for social inclusion 2007-16. The approach, in the case of children, is designed to ensure effective co-ordination across all policy areas that support children and across all Departments and agencies responsible for implementing these policies for children by 2016.

For the purposes of the UNICEF report, which uses statistics relevant to the year 2000, the income threshold for the relative income poverty indicator is 50% of average household income. As it relates just to the income a household receives, it does not include other resources a household may have or have access to which keeps them out of actual poverty.

  Mr. Boyle: Can the Minister refrain from his apples and oranges argument? This is an international study, a comparison of relative poverty rates.

  Mr. Brennan: I was just getting good at it.

  Mr. Boyle: Any reference the Minister makes to consistent poverty has nothing to do with my question. The UN body compared 25 industrial nations and Ireland ranked 22nd. Regardless of the direction of Government policy, and the Minister’s answer admits it has been painfully slow, Ireland should not be in this position after ten years of economic growth. The measures that need to be implemented are found in the countries that were most successful in this study. The rate of child poverty for Ireland, the UK and the US is 15% of the population. The Nordic equivalent, in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark, is 5%. Aside from the publication of the action plan on social inclusion the Minister should set clear targets to reduce the figure of 15% to 5% in a short time. He has not done so to date.

  Mr. Brennan: The study uses figures from 2000. We should keep that in mind.

  Mr. Boyle: It has not changed that much.

  Mr. Brennan: With respect to the Deputy, it has changed. It is almost seven years since these figures were produced and Ireland has changed dramatically in that time. While the Deputy is right to say the study places us as 22 out of 24 in [1571] regard to material well-being it puts us eighth in terms of educational well-being, seventh in family and peer relationships, fourth in behaviours and risks for children and fifth out of 21 for subjective well-being. In almost all the other measures in the study our children come out close to the top which brings us back to the question of how we measure poverty.

In the recent budget we put €240 million into a range of measures, a decision the House supported because it was necessary. For the first time since 1994 we put an extra €60 million into child dependant allowances with the result that the child benefit increase of €10 a month across the board was not the same for the one third of children on the bottom rung of that ladder. They got an extra €22 per month. That is the first time since 1994 that a clear preference was shown and funds were put into helping poor children, rather than making an across the board increase in child benefit which would perhaps have been politically more attractive but would not have been the right thing to do.

The increases in the family income supplement and in the one parent family payments have added up to a solid assault on child poverty. I am determined to keep up that pressure and eliminate child poverty.